Winthrop Harbor Comprehensive Plan

Another article written for my internship about community plans for my hometown. I attended an open house for the plans and did extensive research on the plans themselves. Overall, I am proud of how the article turned out, especially the lead, because I thought I caught attention in contrast with the dry, but informative, subject matter.

As seen in the July issue of ZB Guide (below).

comrpehensive plan

“What’s your five-year plan?”

It’s a question that is familiar to adults, or teenagers planning their futures. It’s heard during job interviews and dates alike. It can have added difficulty, depending on what number is thrown out, like 10, 15 or 20.

A comprehensive plan is a community’s answer to that dreaded question. It outlines visual plans for a municipality and is updated to match local needs, interests or opportunities in land use, economic development, housing, parks for 15- to 20-year increments. Comprehensive plans also provide strategies to achieve these goals and community leadership.

It is recommended that comprehensive plans are updated every five years. Winthrop Harbor’s comprehensive plan hasn’t been restructured since 1995; although, updating efforts have been ongoing, including a Necessity for Change Report (2009) and an Existing Conditions Report (2015).

Changes in Winthrop Harbor’s demographics in the past 21 years, found in the Existing Conditions Reports, have kick started a need for a new comprehensive plan. For example, the village has experienced a decrease in average household size from 2.81 to 2.61, an increase in the number of residents older than 50 from 25 percent to 37 percent and a decline of K-8 enrollment by one-third since 2000.

Winthrop Harbor officials partnered with the Chicago Metropolitan Agency for Planning (CMAP) in September of 2014 in response to some of these changes. Both CMAP and village officials have generated public feedback on the comprehensive plan draft, including an open house held on May 24. In the draft, the two invested parties want to focus on:

  • Sustainable development practices, such as separating land use categories and focusing on commercial development downtown;
  • Investment on infrastructures, including repairs to park equipment and improving the Schlader Recreation Center;
  • Changes to regulations, like adding and preserving parks and reducing storm water runoff; and
  • Collaborations to improve multi-jurisdictional areas, specifically to improve streetscapes and the lakefront.

wh-comprehensive-plan-july2016One main change in the comprehensive plan is to diversify housing. Despite the increase of senior citizens in Winthrop Harbor, there are no senior living facilities within village boundaries. Since 97.4 percent of residential acreage is single-family owned, senior citizens who want to stay in Winthrop Harbor may not have places to move that they can afford. The construction of smaller houses will not only keep senior citizens in Winthrop Harbor, but it will attract families who want smaller housing options to move to the village.

Other housing changes CMAP encourages include completing already existing subdivisions, including both phases of Country Manor, off of 5th St. and Lewis Ave. Another suggestion is for seniors to work with the Community Development Department if they wish to add improvements to their homes, such as wider doors to accommodate for wheelchairs.

The expansion of commercial development is another priority of the comprehensive plan. According to research done by CMAP, the Chicago region experienced little retail sales growth over the past decade and they estimate that this trend is likely to continue. To combat this, CMAP advises the village to build positive relationships with neighboring communities, to seek and accept retailers that match opportunities and amenities of Winthrop Harbor and to choose developers who can deliver products and services to benefit the community.

The primary attraction to Winthrop Harbor is North Point Marina. While the marina holds the largest recreational boating launch site in the Great Lakes and sees almost 1 million visitors every summer, the local yacht club loses 10-15 percent of its membership each year to the Waukegan, Kenosha and Racine yacht clubs. Part of the loss can be explained by the lack of commerce in Winthrop Harbor and the unattractiveness of the lakefront.

The lakefront is under jurisdiction of the Illinois Department of Natural Resources, which as of 2013, has a backlog of $750 million for maintenance, so Winthrop Harbor is not entirely to blame. The maintenance of state parks has been put off for years due to budgetary restrictions and the backlog prompted prices increases, including a $2 surcharge added to license plate renewals, to regenerate these funds for improvements. IDNR officials expected annual revenue of $18-22 million to be split equally between operations and capital projects.

Winthrop Harbor officials will have to work with the IDNR and neighboring communities to improve the status of the lakefront, since the comprehensive plan calls for a tourism-based economy to ensure the community’s long-term economic prosperity.
According to CMAP, lakefront improvements will be the best and most-efficient way to create the desired prosperity.

Among other ideas in the comprehensive plan draft are repairing sidewalks, making Sheridan Rd. walkable and more attractive to visitors and citizens, working to provide more trail access to the Robert McClory Bike Path and prioritize maintenance on streets, sidewalks and commercial properties.

Since this is a draft, not all of these changes are finalized, but CMAP and village officials are working on completing the final plan. It is unknown when the final comprehensive plan will be presented, but Pat DiPersio, community development director of Winthrop Harbor, is hopeful that they will have a draft to take to the public by the end of summer or early fall. After that, the Village Board will adopt the plan and put the plan into practice. You can view the Existing Conditions Report, the draft plan and updates at www.cmap.illinois.gov/programs-and-resources/lta/winthrop-harbor.

Article on ZBGuide.com.

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